On Winning

It’s easy to look back at teams that have won and see that they were winners.  It’s so much harder to look at a team that hasn’t won and answer the questions “can they?” and “will they?”

I am firm believer that in individual talent being a necessary ingredient for team success.  I believe great players raise everyone else’s game.  However, I think that one of the things that makes great players great isn’t just their talent.  It is that they need to win.  For some individuals, there is an ugly question that bounces around in their heads about whether their team will or won’t win.

I think the great ones don’t have room in their head for that thought – their head is bursting with the need to win.  Of course, that doesn’t mean they always win, but it means they have less errors in their individual games introduced by the doubt that comes from wondering.   They always play to win, which beats the hell out of playing to win while also trying to play not to lose.

 

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Together on a Bus

I didn’t play on teams that did much travelling until I was in high school.  However, I remember those days well and it never fails to bring a smile, if not to my face, then at least within my mind, remembering the good times spent travelling with not just friends, but hockey-playing friends.

Peterborough to Ottawa for some beyond-the-city championship tourney (COSSA?), short trips to and from Fenelon Falls or Lindsay for the rare Saturday night game, Toronto for the Father David Bauer November tournament and the mother of all long nights, North Bay to Peterborough post-game on a cold late-winter night after a sad ending at OFSSA.

The music was Pink Floyd and Kim Mitchell and Geddy and his mates and all kinds of good stuff in between.  There were card games and naps, chirping each other, chirping the coaches, chirping about girls and on en route to the game, thoughts of big moments to come.  On the return trip, thoughts of plays made that felt good or, on the down side, mistakes made that left doubt, angst and frustration.

Sometimes old yellow school buses, sometimes fancier coaches, but the ride was the thing.  The bus ride to play hockey and the bus ride home.  Those were better than the good old days.

Ah, the boys from Humboldt and their bus ride.  God, I feel for every single one of them.  The driver of the truck.  The families, the neighbours, the kid’s teachers, the team they never got to play.  The ones who lived.

Like many who had a lump in their throat when they heard the news, and who had a hockey stick or two out in the garage, I put a stick at the front door.   It seems like such a silly thing to do in some ways.  It won’t make a difference.  It won’t really lessen the pain to their loved ones.

In the same week that innocent people were gassed by their own country’s leader, I am reminded of how much suffering there is in the world that seemingly rolls off us, as if it’s not really affecting other human beings like us.

For me, hockey has always helped give a little bit of meaning to life when the world gets a bit out of whack.  Or, I’d like to think it provides a little bit of healing balm to those in pain when the circumstances of their world are a little overwhelming.

This was a tough one.  The stick at the front door may not mean much, but showing you care in any way you can is better than having it roll off you.

 

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Filed under Friendships, memories, Road Trips, teams

A Man and his Son, A Man and his Father, and Me

I skated today for the first time in 9 weeks on this cold bright January morning.  I headed off to Vic park early, knowing the rink would be mostly mine, which is for the best as i know I’m in no shape to actually skate with others around me yet.  I took my stick and couple of pucks and felt a tiny surge of excitement to see how I felt.   There was a young man on the ice already, with his son, a boy of 5 or 6.  I skated at one end of the massive sheet, they at the other.  At one point my puck danced away and the boy was only too happy to dart over and pass it back to me.   I grinned and gave him a hearty thank you and he flashed a big smile and skated away in a burst.  There were days not so long ago where my son and daughters skated alongside with me here when they were his age.  And I remember being that small once and skating with my own father at the open air rinks in Peterborough – Bonnerworth, the Trent canal, Hillside street park.  Good memories all.

I was in my element again and it felt good.  A clean sheet of ice is the most creative thing I’ve ever known.  Turn left, turn right, quick steps to full speed, glide, turn, stick handle or let the puck do the work.  In my later years, I’ve never played the game in a way where my movements are planned.  It’s one of the beautiful parts of playing for fun, of shinny.  It’s movement guided by some primal, instinctive compass, long since obsolete now that we don’t have to outrun woolly mammoths and such.   Bobby Orr has suggested more than once that we are systemically removing the creativity of generation after generation of hockey players in favour of structure and systems.  I couldn’t agree more.

Handling the puck was magical.  My hands were fine and little strength was needed for the simple maneuvers I tried.  The burden of an injured shoulder hasn’t stolen that gem.  I was able to pass the puck off the frozen boards back to myself, and able to fire the puck smoothly along the ice at the net.  Ah, the clank of the puck hitting a pipe net at an open air rink.  A different type of pipe organ, but beautiful music indeed.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for the instinctive side of me to get overruled by my mind flashing a mental “careful” sign as I approached anything beyond the slowest speed I know.  The thinking part of the brain telling the rest of me this was premature and foolish.  A fall on to my gimpy wing would be a very bad thing.   This will be the part of playing I will miss the most if my shoulder always requires an element of caution from this point forward if at some point I am able to play again.  I may not be young anymore, but the rink is the only place in my life where I have done anything with any measure of abandon.  I was never a physical player, being not strong enough for that game, but I rarely backed away from going to the puck, or taking it to the net regardless of the opponent, and I was always happy to try the impossible pass, or slide through the slightest of lanes between players

In all, I skated only 10 minutes.  The weight of the puck on the stick for just that length of time began to play a different kind of music in my shoulder very quickly.  Pain on the end of the clavicle as it pushed up unrestricted into the muscle on the top of the shoulder. I picked up my puck and head back to the car, hopped in and started to remove my skates.  As I did so, a man about the same age as the one with the young son already on the rink walked by with an older man by his side who was obviously his father.  Skates on sticks over shoulders, toques on heads, they headed to the sheet I had just left.

I have been the young boy, and I have been the young father.  Shoulder be damned, I will be the old man in skates and toque yet.

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Filed under dads, injuries, memories, rinks, shinny, Sounds, Uncategorized

Forrest Gump and Injured Reserve

Well, it’s been almost two and half years since I went all Forrest Gump and took my hands off the keyboard and simply stopped writing rinktales.  And today…well, it marks the day I am back.  Quite sadly for me, it’s not the way I had had hoped to return.   You see, I never intended to simply stop writing and never return.  It wasn’t like I had run out of stories.  A hockey player never runs out of stories.  Using a hockey metaphor, I just ran out of tape, got a bit winded, the skates got a bit dull.  The plan was to sit out a few shifts to let the ringing noises subside and then get back out there.  However, one month turned into two, then a year turned into two and a second season turned into a third.  I was playing a lot, and there was a new story every shift.  This hockey player’s life was good.  It was a first world life in the truest sense but hey, I was born in the first world.

Then, one Saturday night this past November in a tournament game, my right shoulder somehow ended up in a blind date with the boards behind the opposing net (I’ve don’t believe I’ve ever met the boards behind my own net) and she was a nasty one that.   It’s been a few weeks and while that’s a wee drop in the bucket of time, and all those who care tell me I’m too impatient and things will be back to normal if I just let time take its course, things feel a little bleak currently, a little like this time might be different than all the relatively minor injuries I’ve suffered in the past.  The reality is that my shoulder no longer feels like a shoulder, nor does it look like one.

And so, when it comes to hockey, writing about it may be the next best thing to playing for the forseeable future.  And by forseeable future, I really mean the words “holy shit, you may be done eh?” keep rattling around inside my helmetless head.

A week or so after I got hurt, I watched Ryane Clowe get honoured pre-game in San Jose like he was same aging superstar from years gone by.  Crap I thought, when did he stop playing and why?  Last I heard, he was one of the Sharks up and comers.  As I followed the scene on the tele, they described how he had succumbed to concussion symptoms over past couple of seasons and was done.  They described his feelings of despair and mental battle with the notion that he was done.  Really done.

I won’t try to compare myself to Clowe, for whom hockey was his means of making a living.  However, I do know this –  I have loved playing the game every bit as much as anyone who ever played and not playing is a like having the juiciest morsel of life withheld for all eternity.  Hopefully my shoulder heals and I can lace up again at some point, even in a diminished capacity.  However, there’s no guarantees and until then, perhaps rinktales will be my means to stay close to the game and all the good things it has given me thus far.

Stay tuned, and while I’d like to say “stay safe”, that is one dumb-ass suggestion to give anyone who has ever strapped sharpened steel on to the bottom of their feet in order to enjoy high speed sport on frozen water.   Instead, I’ll just suggest that if you are still playing, enjoy the hell out of it ‘cuz as Tom Cochrane said in his wonderful hockey ballad Big League, “Ah, never can tell what might come down, never can tell how much you got, just don’t know, no you never can tell.”

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Playing Hurt

Bergeron and Toews – two stars hurt in the same game that threw game 5 momentum in different directions last night.  It was killing Toews to have to sit.  At one point it appeared he pleaded with the coaching “Gimme one shift” but he didn’t play in the third.  Watching Bergeron coast around for three 15 second shifts and then gut out the pain when he got to the bench was telling.  He’s big time hurt.  What a disappointment it must be to make  it this far, playing so well, only to go out for the final couple of games with everything on the line.

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The Morning After…In Summer

Hockey equipment smells bad on a bitter cold January day after being left in the trunk after last night’s game.  There’s no point of comparison for the same left in the trunk (and then left to sit in there in the sun the next day) after Thursday night shinny in the summertime.   Thanks heaven’s for garage’s as a staging area for hockey laundry.

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Outside Inside Goal

It’s just shinny but as one gets older, and is able to pull off a move one-on-one and then score, even if the defender is older than one’s self, and even if the tender isn’t half the goalie Tukka Rask’s mother-in-law is, it still feels good.  I had one like that last night.

There were a few chuckles as I coasted back to centre that I’m pretty sure were born of the notion that while I obviously enjoyed it and appeared to be thinking “I still got it” were really just reality checks indicating that it was old guy beating really old guy then beating tired old goalie who was thinking he was only 15 minutes away from post shinny pitcher of beer.

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